Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of July 17, 2023

Date: July 21, 2023

By Hannah Gabelnick, Megan Battista, and Regine Ndanga, edited by Caitlin Crowell

Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from council meetings related to our Community Agenda items.

This week’s summary focuses on the Common Council’s Civil Service, Community Development, Finance, and Legislation Committees. The Police Oversight Committee was scheduled for this week, but it was canceled and will be rescheduled for September. In this summary, we will abbreviate “Council Member” as CM, "Council President" as CP, "Majority Leader" as ML, and "Pro Temp" as "PT."

During the Civil Service Committee meeting, the topic of appointing Deputy Mayors was discussed. CM Wyatt inquired about the resumes of the two candidates and expressed concerns about spending taxpayer money without knowing their backgrounds and job descriptions. CM Rivera pointed out that the matter falls within the purview of the Mayor, but it is a courtesy for candidates to meet with council members. Assistant Corporate Council Carin Gordon explained that unlike commissioners, who must, according to the City Charter, be approved, deputy mayors do not have to be approved by the council. However, Gordon continued, it is respectful to share information about the appointees with the council. The motion was tabled to give appointees Callie Johnson and Rashied McDuffie time to talk with council members.

During the Legislation Committee meeting, Antwan Barlow, executive director of BRICK Buffalo Academy Charter School, said that he had received approval to start a new charter school at 351 Guilford Street. The plan is to start with Kindergarten and first grades, and ultimately educate grades K–5.  Barlow requested a special use permit for building renovation. CM Nowakowski  expressed strong support for the project, noting its proximity to the positive programming and structures of the nearby King Urban Life Center as well as a new playground.  He mentioned that Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes funded the repaving of the surrounding area. The permit was recommended for approval. 

The Community Development Committee held a discussion on recent issues at the Erie Basin Marina, including security and capital improvements. Slip holders and one resident requested increased police presence at the Marina to deal with the behavior of visitors. CM Nowakowski responded that the police shouldn’t be in the Marina because they have more important priorities. He emphasized that his district does not have the bandwidth to support improvements in the Marina, and wondered if the city should sell it.  CM Golombek asserted that, like Unity Island, the Marina is one of the city’s gems, and was the business of all council members. CM Wingo raised concern that the marina is publicly owned, yet it’s reserved for private payers. The council members sent this matter on to the Police Oversight Committee.

The Finance Committee meeting focused on funding assistance for small businesses. The CMs discussed both the proposed funding for Braymiller Market and a proposal for a separate pot of funds for other small businesses in the city. The small business fund would consist of $3.5 million in grant funding and $2 million in loans. While some CMs expressed concerns with details of the proposals, both items were sent on to the full council for a vote. 

Lisa Hicks, OSP Director of Development, and PT Scanlon spoke about additional funding that would go toward small businesses in the South District. PT Scanlon contributed $100,000 from his discretionary funds to OSP for this. PT Scanlon is piloting this model to allocate more funds to small businesses, citing that ARP funds are limited and will run out. ML Rivera said he would like to do the same thing in his district.

Kevin Kaufman, City Auditor, filed the annual audit plan with the common council. CP Pridgen asked how departments were chosen each year to be audited, and why the Treasury Department was so often audited. Kaufman explained that fifty percent of audits are done on departments with high revenue and therefore high risk, while fifty percent are done on the lower risk departments. In addition, the audit tipline is active and they follow up on all tips.

Commissioner Delano Dowell of Administration and Finance reported on amendments to the city’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) spending. The mayor wants to move $59.9 million in ARP funds to the city’s general fund. Most of that ($50 million) will cover city budget shortfalls, and $9.9 million-- $1.1 million per district-- will be used for the CMs’ district projects. The committee sent this item on to the full council for a vote.

The CMs then discussed the proposed contractor for the small business fund–a NYC non-profit called the National Development Council (NDC). The non-profit committed to work with the Buffalo Urban League and the Beverly Gray Center as local contacts to distribute the funds. The committee sent the item on to the next full council meeting.

The Police Oversight Committee meeting was canceled, and will be rescheduled for September.